Once considered a safe haven, places of worship are increasingly becoming a target for domestic terrorism. Fortunately, there are now firearms detection and emergency communications technologies available to keep worship communities out of harm’s way. New technology solutions work 24x7x365 on all surveillance cameras to monitor a facility’s interior, exterior, and parking lots, scanning for a brandished gun, and alerting in seconds with a photo of the gun and exact location. Today’s life-saving technology solutions for worship facilities can be easily implemented and provide immediate warning so that the facilities’ emergency communications and lockdown protocols can be initiated- before a gunshot is fired.
As safety leaders, it’s imperative that we take a holistic approach to violence prevention and mitigate the scope of harm if an incident occurs. We understand that a holistic approach to an active shooter includes vulnerability assessments, planning, training, and technology, but it is also of the utmost importance that we present a welcoming environment that safely invites worshipers. Worship leaders desire a physical security solution and safety protocols that help church leaders ensure safety without conveying a war zone. In the past, metal detectors and security personnel with wand scanners were the only options for firearm detection. Consequently, our need for an entrance with a positive atmosphere outweighed our goals to prevent active shooters. Unfortunately, though, a “never here” perspective can delay the consideration and implementation of security measures that can keep worshipers out of harm’s way. Yes, it is human nature to be reactive, however, worship leaders must not wait for a tragic event of violence within their own facilities to initiate proactive measures that can prevent harm from an active assailant.
Today, worship leaders are no longer held back from planning ahead and making the right decisions regarding people’s safety because their only choices for physical security solutions promoted stress, caused alarm, and created uninviting experiences. Thankfully, there are now gun violence prevention technology solutions available that work silently, behind-the-scenes in conjunction with all security cameras to ensure a peaceful yet safe environment.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) MITIGATING ATTACKS ON HOUSES OF WORSHIP SECURITY GUIDE directs houses of worship to “apply physical security measures to monitor and protect the outer, middle, and inner perimeters while respecting the purpose of each area of the house of worship.” There is no human alone who can monitor every camera at all hours of the day. However, with the employment of advanced technology using Artificial Intelligence, humans now have the tools to always monitor and protect their worship facility.
Below are a few of the technology solutions available today to help ensure safety inside a worship facility and within the surrounding areas:
Most worship facilities are equipped with some level of video surveillance, however, adding new cameras in strategic locations can provide early detection of a firearm once visible. Equipping parking lots, stairwells, and entrances with cameras increases the visibility for video analytics that monitor specific objects.
Visual Gun Detection (with Artificial Intelligence)
New technology turns passive security cameras into active monitoring for firearm threats. Through the use of Artificial Intelligence, Visual Gun Detection software learns the environment and can identify a gun the second it is visible. More advanced detection systems can determine if a gun is holstered or being held in a manner to be actively used. Although worship facilities have become targets for domestic terrorism, the good news is that Visual Gun Detection technology can be used with existing security cameras, and can be operational in minutes.
Emergency Notification System (with Automation)
What happens when a gun is detected by a security camera running Visual Gun Detection software? According to the FBI, 69.8% of active shooter incidents are over in 5 minutes or less. Every single second counts, so being able to quickly notify worship leaders, support staff, and congregation members of danger before a shot is fired provides a head start to enact active shooter protocols. Also of critical importance is to mobilize first responders including law enforcement and emergency medical personnel. Using an Emergency Notification System (ENS) that can automate pre-scripted actions, including text alerts, audible public address system announcements, digital sign notifications, locking doors, and calling law enforcement and medical help the second a gun is detected can mitigate the scope of harm, and may even prevent a fatal outcome.
That is why it’s crucial to have a seamless integration between Visual Gun Detection software and an Emergency Notification System. The time from detection to lockdown actions should be seconds. An example of one benefit is within seconds that a gun was detected in the parking lot, actions could include initiating access control to lock all the church doors while law enforcement is summoned.
Life-saving gun violence prevention technologies are available for all worship facilities today. It’s time for worship leaders to take advantage of modern technologies by planning ahead to prevent tragic events, trauma, and harm to their people.
Ara Bagdasarian is a safety technology pioneer who co-founded the first campus emergency notification system Omnilert and founded the safety stakeholder alliance ZeroNow. He is also former Vestry member of St James’ Episcopal Church in Leesburg, VA.